Monday, July 27, 2009

Twitter, an unbelievable cover and links

I'm on Twitter, occasionally posting about Black books and authors, at @berndawn. Come on over.

Cover Foolishness
If the protagonist of your novel is Black, who in their right mind would put a white person on the cover? Um, your publisher?

Justine Larbalestier's new book, Liar, is out in the U.S. The Australian cover is a white background with "Liar" all over it. The book is about a pathological liar. The girl, Micah, is Black. The U.S. cover features a white female with long, straight hair obscuring part of her face.

Larbalestier has written a long post about it, notably after other people pointed out the disconnect between the cover and the character. Her post is worth visiting - read it here.

Honestly, the cover would not have kept me from reading the book or, if I had older children, selecting it for them. But a cover with a Black teenager on it would have assured I'd give the book a chance. As a mother the cover is often the main draw for me to a new book. (My kids are in picture books and early chapter books at this stage). Children's and YA books aren't in the mainstream press as much as adult titles are (though even adult coverage has diminished). So the cover is my map to whether I'd pick the book up for my child. And in the library (where librarians in my town do a wonderful job of putting diverse books in prominent places) and book stores, I am drawn to books that:
Feature Black characters on the cover
Have beautiful artwork
And show children of multiple ethnicities and races
Have an international theme

So the cover certainly does matter to me and mine. Hopefully the paperback version of Liar will have a better cover.

A column mention about the success of a comic book about Michelle Obama.
Did you know you could throw a birthday party for a book launch? Me either. Folks are doing it on Twitter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

E. Lynn Harris

Today, even as I waited to hear confirmation and wished I’d read wrong, I kept thinking about how E. Lynn Harris was a game changer.

He wrote 11 novels. The first one, Invisible Life, was self-published and wildly popular. Even though or because he told a story that was diverse in a way we didn’t usually accept in “African American” fiction. There were gay and bisexual men in the story.

Stop and think about that.

He was the first writer to do that in contemporary popular fiction with mostly Black characters.

Harris wrote about the down low well before that other guy.

He sold books out of his car to Black women and we continued to buy them.

A Black woman lent me Invisible Life to read as I waited on the phone to ring at a temporary job. The job didn’t turn into something permanent and I left it and the book. Weeks or months later, I picked it up at the library and finished it.

It was a few years before I realized that the first copy I’d read was one of the copies Harris had self-published. He was one of the first big self-publishing successes.

His story of men on the down low changed the game and showed that maybe readers weren’t so narrow after all.

Harris was telling stories that were new to some people, but not everyone. He helped us recognize and talk about questions that were there all along. Recognizing the stories is part of what made his books so readable and popular.

Today I wondered how his books have affected us. How many people found courage and comfort reading his stories? Or in seeing that other people were reading E. Lynn Harris and that maybe others weren’t so narrow?

Last fall, after the election and the success of Proposition 8 in California, there was some sharp focus on homophobia and conservative leanings in the Black community.

Yet I know that some Black people, okay probably a lot of Black people, in California read E. Lynn Harris. He opened minds and reflected real lives.
He could not have been successful without many open hearts and minds. And his stories opened some of those hearts and minds.

I’m sad that there won’t be any more E. Lynn Harris novels. I’m overjoyed that he gave us so many characters and so much to think about.

AP obit on Wall Street Journal web site with quotes from Tananarive Due and Tina McElroy Ansa